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Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 17th Nov 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
Beautiful Thing, Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play about working class teenagers exploring their sexuality, has become a modern classic over the last two decades.  It was a breakthrough piece at the time, but not because of the subject matter.  In the late 1980s there had been no shortage of films and plays about gay schoolboys (EM Forster and Merchant Ivory were rife throughout the land) - but the school was always Eton, the period pre-war (the First War), and the setting sepia-tinted. 

Small, skinny Jamie has a massive crush on his sporty neighbour Ste, the local Adonis.  Although their relationship seems like a non-starter they are thrown together by circumstances.  That’s about as far as the story goes, but the joy of the drama is in the exploration of the growing relationship between the lads and how it’s handled by Jamie’s mum (Sandra), Sandra’s latest boyfriend (Tony), and the oddball girl-next-door (Leah).

The rough south London housing estate where Jamie and Tony live still seems contemporary, even though there aren’t any mobile phones and no one says “innit” all the time.  Liz Ashcroft design makes the most of the in-the-round setting by creating a public space almost like an arena, a mixture of run-down children’s playground and private balconies.

Matthew Tennyson’s performance as Jamie is quite extraordinary – even though he’s just graduated from LAMDA he really looks and behaves like a shy 15-year-old, veering uncertainly between emotional extremes like a frisky foal trying to find its feet.  Tara Hodge is equally amazing as Leah, the bolshie, gobby neighbour who is obsessed with 1960s singer Mamma Cass.  And Claire-Louise Cordwell’s tough but tender Sandra channels Alison Steadman to great effect.

Sarah Frankcom’s production is very strong on comedy, but springs an emotional surprise at the end when the massed ranks of Manchester’s Lesbian and Gay Choir come onstage to sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me”.  Lovely.


BEAUTIFUL THING is on until Saturday 3 December 2011
Prices £9-£33
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833
www.royalexchange.co.uk

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